Lawmakers Push to Protect Electric Grid from Cyberattacks

WASHINGTON - SEPTEMBER 9: U.S. Representative Fred Upton (R-MI) speaks as he introduces Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Michael Powell during a luncheon September 9, 2003 at the Capitol Hill Club in Washington, DC. Powell talked about the state of regulation or de-regulation in the telecommunications industry.  (National Journal)

Lawmakers from both parties voiced concerns at a House hearing Thursday that proper safeguards are not in place to defend the electric grid against cyber attacks.

"It is clear that the electric grid is not adequately protected from physical or cyber attacks," said House Energy and Commerce ranking member Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., at an Energy and Power Subcommittee hearing to examine the role of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in approving energy infrastructure and maintaining energy security.

Waxman called for the passage of legislation to strengthen FERC's ability to protect and maintain the grid.

"FERC lacks authority to directly address these threats and vulnerabilities, [and] Congress needs to fix this gap in regulatory authority."

Also at the hearing, House Republicans continued to paint themselves as champions of the domestic energy boom, while at the same time charging the administration with standing in the way of increased production.

"Long-held beliefs of American energy scarcity have given way to a new era of energy abundance, especially in regards to oil and natural gas. But many policies and attitudes are still rooted in the outdated assumptions of shortages and rising imports, with the potential to obstruct the opportunities before us," commented Committee Chairman Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich.

Acting FERC Chairman Cheryl LaFleur, along with three commissioners, were asked to testify at the hearing.

There was also bipartisan interest among panel members as to whether the commissioners would support legislation to speed approval of energy infrastructure projects such as liquefied-natural gas export facilities and natural gas pipelines. Republican lawmakers ventured out on their own, however, in claiming that federal regulators have so far worked mainly to deter timely infrastructure approval.

"We've got to build this architecture of abundance quickly given that America's oil and gas output has been rising every year and is straining the existing infrastructure. But nearly every new project is met with stiff resistance at every step of the process," Upton commented, saying that the "archaic federal regulatory process can be manipulated to cause years of delays for pipelines, powerline, LNG export projects, and in some cases can block them outright."

Commissioners warned, however, that imposing timelines for approval of energy infrastructure projects could sabotage efforts to increase oil and natural gas output.

"You also have to be careful that as I testified before this committee earlier that you don't force a timeline that results in a no because they'll say they don't have enough time to analyze the project," Philip Moeller, one of the commissioners involved in the hearing commented.

The hearing comes on the heels of a major push by House conservatives prior to the Thanksgiving holiday to pass a series of energy policy acts aimed at expanding oil and natural gas production, including a bill by Rep. Mike Pompeo, R-Kan., which would set an upper limit of 12 months for FERC to approve or deny natural gas pipelines.

The Senate is not expected to take up the legislation and the White House has threatened to veto the bill.

Nevertheless, Upton indicated that conservatives aren't planning to give up the fight over energy policy anytime soon, saying that he expects that the House will soon consider a bill he introduced, along with Rep. Gene Green, D-Texas, to speed approval of cross-border oil and natural gas pipelines as well as electric transmission lines.